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There’s magic in reading books aloud to little kids, especially when you do the voices (you’ve got to do the voices) and they giggle at the pictures and you talk about the characters as if they’re your BFFs. Once kids learn how to read on their own, this parent-child ritual often ends, but it shouldn’t. There are great benefits to reading books to already-proficient readers, even up to age 14. Here are a few:
They Can Devour More Complicated Plots
People often say to me, ‘”My child is in fourth grade and he already knows how to read, why should I read to him?” And I reply, “Your child may be reading on a fourth grade level, but what level is he listening at?”
A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh grade books to fifth grade kids. They will get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading. A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than she can read herself, and reading aloud is really going to hook her, because when you get to chapter books, you’re getting into the real meat of print — there is really complicated, serious stuff going on that kids are ready to hear and understand, even if they can’t read at that level yet.
Finding books that hit that sweet spot of being intellectually challenging while not going way over their heads might take some research and trial and error. If you have multiple children who are more than two years apart (and thus have social and emotional differences), Trelease recommends reading to each child individually, particularly when you’re dealing with novels. Then, when you want to bring everyone together, do so with a picture book. Everyone loves a good picture book.
You Can Model the Joy of Reading
According to government studies, the proportion of tweens and teens who read for fun once a week or more keeps dropping. As kids get older, they’re piled with more and more texts that they have to read, so they start thinking of reading as a chore, like doing the laundry. Plus there are all the distractions of the digital bleeps and bloops of life. Reading aloud to older kids can help them remember the joy of books in a zero-pressure way. They don’t have to do anything but sit there, or maybe doodle or build something, as they listen to the stories unfold.
It Can Help Them Navigate Tough Topics
A lecture from Mum and Dad about serious stuff like bullying, racism, sexism or disaster preparedness? Kids may very well zone out. But if you read them stories about complex characters, both real or fictional, who must make difficult decisions based on life challenges, you’re exploring the issue together, and that can lead to meaningful conversations.
If you read a book about a kid who gets in trouble by hanging out with the wrong crowd, your child is going to experience that directly, and she’s going to experience it with you at her side, and you can talk about it together. You can ask questions like: “Do you think the boy made the right choice?” “Do you think that girl was really her friend?” When you talk about a book together, it’s not a lecture, it’s more like a coach looking at a film with his players, going over the plays to find out what went right and what went wrong.
What makes a book good to read aloud? Stories with rich language, varied sentence structure, colourful quotes, lots of action and, really, anything that captivates you. Trelease has an anthology of great read-aloud stories aimed primarily at the kindergarten through fourth-grade levels. If you, the reader, are into the book, your kid probably will be, too.